On Trigger Warnings [in books]

Warnings about content that may trigger the recall of a previous traumatic experience, known as ‘trigger warnings’, originated on feminist websites, before spreading to other areas, such as print media like books, and university courses. Consideration of trigger warnings in academia had only just begun when I left my position as a university lecturer, but it is a discussion I have followed with interest since.

It’s a debate sparked by intellectual and artistic considerations on one side, and emotional considerations on the other. But how can readers, writers and teachers navigate the field of trigger warnings, and make decisions that best support mental health, academic integrity, and creative freedom?

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In Defence of [Some] Bad Book Covers

Over the past year, I’ve read or referred to over eighty books about books and publishing. The vast majority single out a book’s cover as one of – if not its most – important features. In fact, some even go so far as to say that a bad cover will almost doom a book to failure. Others even suggest that if you have to choose between paying for editing or cover design, you should choose cover design. But why is this? And might there be some instances in which bad book covers are actually… good?

In How to Be a Writer, John Birmingham points to kindlecoverdisasters.tumblr.com as an example of some of the ‘bad’ covers that exist. And I can’t say after scrolling through several pages that I found any books I was tempted to find out more about, let alone pay money for and read.

But is that necessarily a bad thing?

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How to Read: A beginner’s guide

A few years back, I purchased a book called “How to Read a Book” by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren. It was originally published in 1940, and is described as a “living classic” on the blurb. Yet it fails in one key aspect – How does one learn how to read THIS book? Or, indeed, to select a book like “How to Read a Book” in the first place?

Clearly, this “classic guide to intelligent reading” is, just like the cookbook “How to Boil Water” I reviewed here some time ago, more advanced than it lets on.

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Indie Authors and Social Media: 12 Case Studies

In my last post, I examined the social media profiles of 12 bestselling authors. As the results showed, a lack of a huge social media platform doesn’t appear to be a barrier to making it onto the bestseller list. At least for traditionally published authors. But is the same true of indie authors, who often lack the marketing resources of the ‘Big Five’? (Or even their smaller counterparts?) Could social media be indispensable for indies?

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Where’s the Diversity in Books and Publishing?

The US and UK each produce about a quarter of a million titles every year. For readers, that’s an overwhelming amount. Yet often, it can feel as if there’s hardly any diversity in the industry.

Have you noticed the fads that publishing goes through? One season, every hit book will have ‘girl’ in the title. The next, they’re all about vampires. Or childhood abuse. Or more recently, feature dystopias. It seems we lack diversity in content.

Sometimes, it can feel like they’re all by the same authors, too. James Patterson and Nora Roberts, for example, have each written (or co-written) over 200 books. It seems we lack diversity in perspective.

Then, there are times when it feels as if every store is selling, and everyone is reading, the same book. In 2016, charity stores received so many discarded copies of Fifty Shades of Grey, they begged people to stop donating them. (But not before building a book fort in at least one store!)

So how do we reconcile these statistics?

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One Little Word: With

Any time I’m in an airport, I can’t help but pick up one of those airport bookstore catalogues. They’re usually filled with Crime/Thrillers, and feature one or two of what I call ‘with’ books.

What’s a with book?

With books are those (purportedly) written by big-name authors. And I really, literally, do mean BIG NAMES. The big-name author’s name is literally the biggest thing on the cover. Larger and more prominent than the title. Much more sizable than the cover image.

But that’s not what makes it a ‘with book’. Rather, a ‘with book’ has one additional – much harder to find – feature. A little line that states ‘with’ and then, in a much smaller font, lists another author’s name.

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Why Does Garbage Get Published? Profits vs. value

Corporations may not have a legal obligation to maximise shareholder profits. But the belief that they must do everything (within the law) to make money is certainly widespread. Of the ‘Big Five’ publishers, four are public companies. Regardless of their legal obligations, they must keep their shareholders happy. And shareholders are usually made happy through a) increased share price, b) fat dividends or c) a combination of the above.

Smart investors, of course, are those who are in it for the long-term. Who want any increase in share price to be one which reflects an increase in the value of the underlying company. Who want any increase in dividends to reflect an increase in the company’s profits.

‘Surely, increased share prices are good?’ I hear you say. Or, ‘Who wouldn’t want to receive a nice big dividend?’ The answer is responsible investors. Those who care about the company they invest in. Who want it to continue running into the future. Who want its products to remain available. Its employees to remain in jobs. And, of course, to receive sustainable profits from the company themselves.

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